Sunday, May 11, 2008

Spencer Davis Group: Georgia On My Mind

With tomorrow being Steve Winwood's 60th birthday, I have an excuse for returning to this blog's favourite band.

This performance comes from the same Finnish TV concert as the version of "I'm a Man" featured here a few weeks ago. Which means it comes from 1967 when Winwood was 18 and about to leave the group to form Traffic.

Winwood's homage to Ray Charles is extraordinary. And it raises the question of why it was that in the early 1960s a generation of white middle-class boys found such affinity with the Black American music of the blues.

I read somewhere that Pete Townshend attributed it to the fact that we were all so depressed after World War II and the austerity years. My own theory is twofold.

The first is that this generation had fathers who played jazz. This was true of Jimmy Page and his fellow skiffle players and also of the Winwood brothers, whose father was a semi-professional musician. So they grew up in households that were steeped in Black music.

The second is the influence of the church. Religion was a greater presence in middle-class life in those days, which gave British boys a musical education that was closer to the American South than anything they will experience today. Steve Winwood sang in his parish church choir for years as a boy, as did Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. (Rod Argent of The Zombies was even a chorister at St Albans Abbey.)

Chris Welch writes in his biography of Steve Winwood:
Just like so many of the original black soul artists, Steve's earliest singing experiences were on sanctified ground. When the church organist had finished playing, taken his cassock off and got on his bicycle to go home, Steve and Muff used to stay in church with a couple of other friends, switch on the pump and get the organ going.
With Steve pedalling furiously he sang out "What I'd Say", his voice echoing to the rafters of St John's, Perry Barr.
It is all a long way from Simon Cowell and a far better musical education than anyone is likely to get today.


Anonymous said...

...and next month St John's celebrates its 175th anniversary! Perhaps Steve will return for it.

Anonymous said...

Amen to that Simon Cowell comment!
God bless Steve Winwood!